When it comes to perception, a myriad of reasons can affect how the viewer sees and perceives certain things and actions. These can range from personal experience to cultural norms. However, body language is the key that many people use to perceive emotions. Even in cultures where it is considered impolite to show emotion in public, the subconscious nature of body language can tell all. It can divulge not only a person's current emotional state but it can tell a person much about another's overall personality.
Let's examine an example.
The image above is a comparison of two of the main characters of my series StepSisters. Both young women are opposites of each other by nature. From examining their body language alone, you can see that Mariya, the girl on the left, is far more confident and dominant than Amy, the girl on the right. Her, Amy's, stance is more drawn in. Her knees are closer together, hands folded, shoulders slightly slumping: all of these denote a more demure and submissive disposition in her. The softness of her stance is in the common interpretation of a feminine person. Mariya on the other hand is more rigid. Her shoulders drawn back, feet planted firm, and straight posture exudes confidence. The placement of her hands denotes an aggressive nature.
The universal nature of body language is best exemplified by an experiment conducted by Thalia Wheatley, of Dartmouth College. Her and her co-researchers traveled to Cambodia to study the Kreung tribe, one of the indigenious groups that lives in Cambodia's highlands. Their research consisted of not only showing a number of Kreung videos of an American woman making displaying both positive and negative emotions but also had a traditional Kreung perform make facial expressions relating to said emotions. The group of researchers also showed a group of Dartmouth employees and students the video of the Kreung performer. The goal of the study was to document how emotion and body language was a bridge between cultures. The results were a sixty-two percent accuracy rate and an eighty-five percent accuracy rate respectively.
Vitelli, Romeo. “How Universal Is Body Language?” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 12 Apr. 2017, www.psychologytoday.com/blog/media-spotlight/201704/how-universal-is-body-language.
“Expressing Emotion through Posture and Gesture.” pp. 1–21.
Before we begin let's take a moment to ask: what is media? Media, as defined by BusinessDictionary.com, is communication channels through which news, entertainment, education, data or promotional messages are disseminated. It includes every broadcasting and narrowcasting medium like newspapers, TV, the internet, radio, billboards, etc. In reference to art, media refers to the type of art (sculpture, painting, graphic novels, etc) as well as the materials used to create art.
Now, let's discuss culture and gender roles and how media relates to both of these ideas. Culture, in the simplest definition, is the characteristics and knowledge of a particular group of people encompassing language, religion, art, music, social habits and cuisine. To experience it in its fullest one must be fully immersed in a culture. Each culture has its own set of gender roles. In most cultures, women have seen as the caretakers of the family for centuries. They take care of the children, the home, and their partners while the men are seen as the breadwinners.
So where does media come into play? Media, be it TV or magazines, has aided in both subverting and promoting traditional gender roles as well as allowing people to learn more about other cultures. Currently, on TV one can see images of strong, independent women making waves and fighting in male dominated industries to prove their worth. However, the media is a double edged sword. For every positive image that is portrayed, there is a negative image waiting to be seen on another channel.
An example that comes to mind is the portrayal of Black women in media. For every image of a Black woman being a scholar, a doctor, lawyer, teacher, businesswoman, homemakers, etc, there are images of Black women that portray us as video vixens, ghetto hoodrats, unlovable, or damaged to name a few. However, all of these portrayals are a part of Black culture even if some of them aren't the most positive. A thesis written by Tiffany S. Francois that briefly covers how the portrayal of Black women shifts from slavery time to the time of Blaxploitation films notes that the two main portrayals are that of the submissive, sexually fetishized 'Mammy' figure and the freed, independent woman who reclaims not only her sexuality but herself from past hurts. These two images have became an ingrained part of Black culture and the role of a Black woman.
However, just because a culture dictates it does not mean it cannot be owned and reimagined in a different light. It is best described by the theory of womanism: "one's femininity cannot be stripped from the culture that it exists within" (Philips).
Collins, Patricia Hill. “What's in a Name?” The Black Scholar, vol. 26, no. 1, 1996, pp. 9–17., doi:10.1080/00064246.1996.11430765.
Francois, Tiffany S. “How the Portrayal of Black Women Has Shifted from Slavery Times to Blaxploitation Films in American Society.” High Point University, Running Head: Shift in Portrayal of Black Women in America, pp. 1–12.
“Media.” BusinessDictionary.com, www.businessdictionary.com/definition/media.html.
Phillips, Layli (2006). The Womanist Reader. New York: Routledge